Mount Everest is the tallest and highest peak on Earth. Or is it? Here’s everything you need to know about the world’s most famous mountain.
1. MOUNT EVEREST’S ORIGINAL ENGLISH NAME WASN’T TOO CREATIVE.
Before taking the name of Colonel Sir George Everest, the Welsh geographer who served as Surveyor General of India between 1830 and 1843, the mountain carried the unimaginative handle “Peak XV.” Mount Everest was referred to as Peak XV in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1856, which also provided the first official estimate of its height at 29,002 feet.
2. GEORGE EVEREST DIDN’T WANT THE MOUNTAIN NAMED AFTER HIM.
Everest’s successor proposed that Peak XV be named after the geographer, and the Royal Geographical Society agreed in 1865. There was at least one voice who wasn’t crazy about this name choice: Everest himself. He worried that local speakers wouldn’t be comfortable pronouncing his surname, and he pointed out that there was no way to write the name in Hindi, either. Nevertheless, the society voted the surveyor’s name onto the mountain, which it’s unclear if Everest had ever seen.
3. IN FACT, “EVEREST” IS COMMONLY MISPRONOUNCED BY ENGLISH SPEAKERS!
As it turns out, Hindi speakers weren’t the only ones who had trouble pronouncing Everest’s family name. Though “Ever-est” (where the first two syllables rhyme with “never”) is the common pronunciation of the mountain’s moniker today, this is in fact a mispronunciation of Col. Sir George Everest’s name: “Eve-rest” (wherein the first syllable rhymes with “sleeve”).
4. THERE’S STILL DEBATE OVER THE PROPER NAME OF THE MOUNTAIN.
The first known documentation of the peak we call Mount Everest occurred between 1715 and 1717 at the hands a trio of Chinese surveyors assigned to the mission by Qing Emperor Kangxi. The team used the mountain’s traditional Tibetan name “Qomolangma,” which translates to “Holy Mother,” in their official records. (Variants of the spelling have included “Chomolungma,” “Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Feng,” and “Jomo Langma.”) Long after the Western world had adopted the Everest handle, Nepal began using its own name for the mountain: Sagarmāthā.
5. MOUNT EVEREST IS NOT THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN THE WORLD.
Despite Mount Everest’s reputation as the tallest mountain on Earth, it’s nowhere near the peaks of Hawaii. Mauna Kea may not reach Everest’s superlative 29,000-ish feet above sea level, peaking at just shy of 13,800 feet. But Mauna Kea stretches a whopping 19,700 feet below the ocean, adding up to a total height of approximately 33,500 feet and eclipsing its landlocked rival by more than three-quarters of a mile.
6. IT'S NOT NECESSARILY THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN IN THE WORLD, EITHER.
Yes, Mount Everest extends farther above sea level than any other mountain in the world. But Everest’s peak is not, in fact, the farthest point from the Earth’s center—that honor goes to Chimborazo, an Andes stratovolcano in Ecuador.
The distinction is a product of our planet’s oblong shape: The Earth actually bulges outward around the equator, pushing its surface farther away from its core when approaching the equator. Sitting only 70 miles south of the equator as compared to Mount Everest’s distance of 1900 miles north, the 20,564-foot Chimborazo benefits substantially from this bulge. The South American peak measures 3967.1 miles from Earth’s core, barely edging out Mount Everest’s 3965.8 miles.
7. THE HIGHEST ALTITUDE PLANT SPECIES LIVES ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Unsurprisingly, Mount Everest is home to some of the world’s highest-dwelling living things. Scientists have found moss growing as high as the mountain’s 21,260-foot mark.
8. IT ALSO BOASTS THE HIGHEST ALTITUDE ANIMAL.
Even more astounding is the Himalayan jumping spider, which makes its home at Everest’s 22,000-foot point, the highest permanent residence for any animal on the planet. The spider is believed to survive exclusively on small hexapods carried up the mountain by the wind.
9. ONE MAN WROTE ABOUT SCALING THE MOUNTAIN ALMOST 70 YEARS BEFORE IT WAS DONE.
In 1885, Englishman Clinton Thomas Dent—a decorated surgeon and the future president of the Alpine Club of Great Britain—penned the first official prediction of mankind’s conquering of Mount Everest. Although Dent included this proclamation in his book Above the Snowline, he wasn’t necessarily a proponent of the endeavor, writing, “I do not for a moment say that it would be wise to ascend Mount Everest, but I believe most firmly that it is humanly possible to do so; and, further, I feel sure that even in our own time, perhaps, the truth of these views will receive material corroboration.”
Fellow mountaineer and writer Geoffrey Winthrop Young later recalled Dent’s aversion to braving new peaks. “He has often been quoted as saying that the Alps were exhausted as far back as the 1880’s [sic],” Young wrote in a 1943 issue of The Alpine Journal, “and he once wrote me a friendly warning not to attempt new Alpine ways, ‘since there is really nothing left worth risking much for.’”
10. THE BODIES OF TWO EARLY CLIMBERS WENT MISSING FOR 75 YEARS.
George Mallory was a trailblazing mountaineer who participated in the first three British attempts to scale Everest. Tragically, Mallory’s third go at the peak, undertaken in 1924, resulted in his and fellow climber Andrew “Sandy” Irvine’s disappearance. For decades, Mallory and Irvine’s bodies could not be found. During a 1936 climb, mountaineer Frank S. Smythe spotted what he believed to be a human body at the bottom of a distant gully, but he confined his observation to private writings for fear of incurring unwanted attention from the press. Smythe’s discovery would not become public until 2013, 14 years after the BBC-sponsored Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition of 1999 led to the recovery of Mallory’s body, but not Irvine’s.
11. EDMUND HILLARY WASN’T AFRAID OF EVEREST, BUT HE FEARED HIS FIANCÉE.
Thirty-two years after the earliest known attempts to scale Everest, New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary and Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay became the first men to successfully complete the trip. Appropriately, the achievement burnished both men’s reputations for insurmountable courage. Hillary, who had attempted the climb once before and had served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, was particularly lionized for his daring. However, Hillary was not a man without fear. The brave mountaineer was, in fact, too afraid to propose to his girlfriend, Louise Mary Rose. Hillary relied on his future mother-in-law, Phyllis Rose, to pop the question in his stead.
12. HILLARY AND NORGAY DIDN’T SPEND MUCH TIME AT THE PEAK.
Not feeling especially inclined to bask in their feat and running low on precious oxygen, the duo spent just 15 minutes on the summit of Mount Everest. They hugged, took care of a few bits of business, and headed back down to safety.
13. THEY DID, HOWEVER, LEAVE THEIR MARK ON THE SUMMIT.
The pair buried a few more personal trinkets in the snows of the summit. Hillary left a small crucifix on behalf of friend and expedition leader Baron Henry “John” Hunt, while Norgay left a collection of chocolates and biscuits for the gods who oversaw the peak.
14. TWO CLIMBERS HAVE SCALED THE MOUNTAIN 21 TIMES APIECE.
Nepalese climbers Lhakpa Tenzing Sherpa, nicknamed “Apa” or “Super Sherpa,” and Phurba Tashi share the record for most ascents of Everest. As of 2015, each has completed 21 climbs: Apa between 1990 and 2011, and Phurba between 1999 and 2013.
15. NEPAL AND CHINA DISAGREE ABOUT HOW TALL THE MOUNTAIN IS.
Although a difference of 13 feet seems trivial when you’re discussing the height of a peak as large as Mount Everest, this difference has stirred up a lasting disagreement between Nepal and China. Official decree by the former holds that Everest stands at a whopping 29,029 feet tall (just about 5.5 miles). China insists, however, that Everest is only 29,016 feet tall. The difference? China cuts the 13-foot layer of capping snow from its measurement. In 2010, the two countries reached an agreement in which China admitted the mountain’s overall height stood at 8,848 meters, while Nepal admitted that the height of the peak’s rock structure was just 8,844 meters.
16. THE MOUNTAIN IS STILL GROWING.
Give it enough time, and both China and Nepal will be wrong. Everest is still growing as a result of the Indian subcontinent’s constant northward drift. When it bangs into the Eurasian continent, the Himalayas get a bit of a boost. Everest’s stature increases by about 4 millimeters, or one sixth of an inch, every year. At this rate, China will have to concede to Nepal’s 29,029-foot decree by the year 2951. (Of course, by then, Nepal will claim the mountain’s height is actually 20,042 feet.)